Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Joan of Arc Part 2

HER EARLY CHARACTER

Joan was the child of Jacques d'Arc, and of Isabelle Romee his wife, poor villagers of Domremy, on the borders of Lorraine. She had one sister, who appears to have died in childhood, and three brothers. When asked at her trial what had been her age on first coming to King Charles's Court, she answered nineteen. The good rule of making a large addition to a lady's own declaration of her years does not appear needful in this case : her own declaration was also confirmed by other witnesses ; and we may without hesitation fix her birth in 1410 or 1411.* Her education was such as a peasant-girl receivec at that time ; she was not taught to read or to write but she could spin and sew and repeat her Pater Noster and her Ave-Maria. From her early childhood she was sent forth to tend her father's flocks and herds on the hills. Far from giving signs of an extraordinary hardihood or heroism, she was so bashful as to be put out of countenance whenever spoken to by a stranger. She was known to her neighbours only as a simple-minded and kind-hearted girl, always ready to nurse the sick, or to relieve any poor wayfarer whom chance might lead to her village. An ardent piety, however, soon made her an object of remark, and perhaps of ridicule. She was sometimes seen to kneel and pray alone in the fields. She took no pleasure in the pastimes of her young companions; but as soon as her daily work was over she would rush to the church, and throw herself prostrate with clasped hands before the altar, directing her devotions especially to the Virgin and to Saints Catherine and Margaret, in whose name that church was dedicated. The sacristan declares in his depositions at the trial that she was wont to rebuke him whenever he neglected to ring the bells for the village service, and to promise him a reward if he would for the future do his duty better. Every Saturday, and sometimes oftener, she went in pilgrimage to a small chapel, dedicated to the Virgin, at a little distance from the village. Another spot to which Joan often repaired was a venerable beech, which spread its ancient boughs on the confines of the neighbouring forest of Bois Chenu. At its foot ran a clear streamlet, to whose waters healing powers were ascribed. The tree bore the popular name of "L'Arbre des Dames," or "L'Arbre des Fees," and, according to Joan herself at her trial, several greyheaded crones in the village, and amongst the rest her godtnother, pretended to have heard with their own cars fairies discoursing beneath the mysterious shade. But for that very reason the tree was hallowed by Catholic worship, as such spots have ever been, in the dark ages with the view to drive out the evil spirits, in less credulous times to dispel the superstition from the public mind. Once every year the priest of Domremy, at the head of the elders of the village, walked round the tree in solemn procession, chanting psalms and prayers, while the young people were wont to hang garlands on the boughs, and to dance beneath them until night with lighter minstrelsy,

"or legend old,
Or song heroically bold."

* Yet Pasquier (perhaps from a misprint in his book) has altered nineteen to twenty-nine, and this error has misled both Hume and Bapla.

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